Here's a reasonably good skeptical summary of their efforts written a couple years ago:
1. she wasn't a master of the airplane, having crashed it on takeoff before due to overloading
2. she had a history of overruling her navigator and being wrong
3. she tried to find a tiny island at the limit of the airplane's range in a time when navigation wasn't that accurate
4. did not have proper training on the radio and direction finder equipment
5. flew into a headwind and kept going
6. proper technique at the time was to fly towards the centerline between Howland and another island, doubling the likelihood of one being in visual range. She did not do this.
This was at a time when such an attempt would be very, very unforgiving of mistakes. I don't think there's much of a mystery. (WW2 saw a lot of airplanes disappear over the Pacific with no trace.)
Lindbergh would have had a very hard time missing Europe. His biggest problems were fatigue, icing, and headwinds. I think Lingbergh took a much more calculated risk. His predecessors disappeared without a trace.
Also, you followed up with a post about trained Navy pilots going missing on relatively simple flights between two giant landmasses where all you have to do is literally fly east or west. Earhart and Noonan were able to handle the navigation for much more difficult flights than crossing the Atlantic. So yes, there's still very much of a mystery as to what happened to them.
A fair question. Here's some detail:
> Especially the bit about Earhart having a history of overruling Noonan
My reference for that was a documentary on Earhart on TV, sorry don't recall the title. When they crossed the Atlantic and hit Africa, Noonan said turning right to find out where they were, Earhart overruled and turned left, and was wrong. Fortunately, they had enough fuel to correct the mistake. The documentary said their relationship was not as collegial as you characterized it.
The headwind thing came from it, too.
B-17s were Army Air Force, not Navy. The WW2 planes going missing over the Pacific were often B-29s flying great distances over water to attack Japan. They didn't have trouble finding Japan, but finding Iwo Jima on the return wasn't easy.
The bit about how to navigate to a tiny island came from my father. Him being a trained navigator, I think that's fair. Besides, don't you think it makes sense?
The radio issues you can find in the wikipedia article about Earhart. The crash with the overloaded airplane you can find a brief mention of there, too.
> So yes, there's still very much of a mystery as to what happened to them.
Not to me, not to a trained navigator, either. For comparison, when JFK jr disappeared, the first thing my dad said was spacial disorientation, a perennial killer of inexperienced pilots flying into poor visibility conditions. After weeks of investigations and conspiracy theories, the investigators reluctantly made that conclusion, as well. Nobody wanted to believe a mistake that simple could have taken down JFK jr.
... As Amelia sighted the African coast in the distance, Fred, who was seated at the navigator's station behind the auxiliary fuel tanks, passed Amelia a note containing the latest course correction based upon his calculations:
3:36 Change to 36 degrees
Estimate 79 miles to
Dakar from 3:36 p.m.
... Amelia followed her intuition and turned north upon reaching the coast instead of south as Fred had instructed. After flying for another 50 miles, the two found themselves at Saint-Louis, Senegal, many miles north of their intended destination. If Amelia had turned south when she reached the coast, they would have arrived at Dakar within a half hour of 3:36 p.m. The occurrence, which Amelia later admitted was her error, fortunately only resulted in a short delay ...
Also, the Wikipedia article doesn't say what you claim it says. It in fact states that the overloaded plabe was a test flight attempted to determine how much weight the plane could hold, and that neither Earhart or Noonan were able to use Morse code but could otherwise operate their radios.
None of the issues mentioned below should have happened if Earhart had properly learned how to use the equipment, prepared for the flight with with best practices, and coordinated with the ship & ground radio operators beforehand.
"Neither Earhart nor Noonan were capable of using Morse code."
"At least twice during the world flight, Earhart failed to determine radio bearings at 7500 kHz."
"Through a series of misunderstandings or errors (the details of which are still controversial), the final approach to Howland Island using radio navigation was not successful."
"The Electra had been equipped to transmit a 500 kHz signal that Itasca could use for radio direction finding, but some of that equipment had been removed."
"The antenna was bulky and heavy, so the trailing wire antenna was removed to save weight."
"Earhart's only training on the system was a brief introduction by Joe Gurr at the Lockheed factory, and the topic had not come up. A card displaying the band settings of the antenna was mounted so it was not visible."
"the aviators had cut off their long-wire antenna, due to the annoyance of having to crank it back into the aircraft after each use."
"It was at this point that the radio operators on the Itasca realized that their RDF system could not tune in the aircraft's 3105 kHz frequency"
"If transmissions were received from the Electra, most if not all were weak and hopelessly garbled. Earhart's voice transmissions to Howland were on 3105 kHz, a frequency restricted in the United States by the FCC to aviation use.[Note 35] This frequency was thought to be not fit for broadcasts over great distances. When Earhart was at cruising altitude and midway between Lae and Howland (over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from each) neither station heard her scheduled transmission at 0815 GCT. Moreover, the 50-watt transmitter used by Earhart was attached to a less-than-optimum-length V-type antenna."
It's well known that an overloaded airplane can handle very different, and for a pilot inexperienced with it it can be very, very dangerous. Heck, I was watching "Alaska Crash Investigations" just the other day, where the cause of a crash shortly after takeoff was determined to be due to the airplane being overloaded by 500 lbs. Crashing overloaded bombers at the end of the runway was a popular way to die in WW2, as they were always deliberately overloading them.
Linbergh famously overloaded the Spirit of St Louis and figured his biggest risk of death came from getting the machine off the ground.
Can we use the word 'overloaded' here? Lucky Lindy's plane was custom-built, basically a flying gas tank.
It is not like he took an off-the-shelf plane and loaded it beyond its design specifications.
"No plane ever took off so heavily loaded; and my propeller is set for cruising, not for take-off. Of course our test flights at San Diego indicate that it will take off—theoretically at least. But since we didn't dare try a full load from Camp Kearney's stony ground, the wings now have to lift a thousand pounds more than they ever carried before—five thousand pounds to be lifted by nothing more
tangible than air."
He also indicated that the airplane was not stressed to land with such a heavy load.
-- The Spirit of St. Louis
A quick search found this in an AMA he did.
"I offered immediately on hearing of its loss to help in any way possible either advising them on how best to hunt for the airliner or to do it with my own ship and technology but they turned me down. You can't help unless you are invited to help and they clearly wanted to do it themselves. Recently, I met the president of Malaysia Airlines who offered to send me the search data to look at just in case they might have missed something. I am still waiting for the data but don't expect to get it."
Didn't the guy who found the initial wreckage do it on his own inspite of the Malaysian gov't?
There's a big difference between picking up wreckage on beaches and putting your ship in the middle of a coordinated search pattern.
It would be wonderful to finally solve this mystery, but it’s not as though this idea is some recent breakthrough. It was thought of at the time, which is why the pilot was sent to look.
We still failed to locate the aircraft. It was found a month or so later by some random recreationalists.
Any number of circumstances may have prevented it from being spotted the first time. It's far, far harder to locate missing aircraft than most people realize.
If an aircraft goes missing, we're usually dealing with mountains, oceans or remote areas with dense tree covers. Remote sensing is very limited in these environments.
A similar tactic was used when Steve Fossett disappeared (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Fossett#Disappearance_an...), and it was entirely unsuccessful.
There are a few challenges:
1. There is a direct relationship between the time and effort required to take imagery, and the image resolution. Which is to say, if you want imagery that's detailed enough that you can find likely evidence without a lot of false positives, then you have to spend a ton of time in the air at low altitude, and if you want to effectively search a large area, then you have to spend time at higher altitude where you're too high up to get useful imagery.
2. Humans aren't good at sorting out natural features from unnatural ones. My favorite example of this is the face on Mars. Same deal when trying to search through imagery for debris. People have a preconception of what a plane crash looks like, and it's usually wrong. They'll confuse light-colored rocks, trees broken by snow loading, and all kinds of other things for evidence, while completely missing actual evidence. So the problem with these systems for search managers is that once someone flags something in a picture, you're kinda obligated to check on it, which takes resources away from more likely search areas.
3. The technology isn't there (yet). Computer vision may get better than humans at this soon, but not yet, and certainly not in the kind of technology that even well-funded search organizations or adventurers has access to. NSA? Maybe. Us? Nah, best we get is grainy photographs of features 1m across from high up.
IR imagery currently has similar problems, there's just too much background noise in most cases.
Some kind of multi-spectrum imagery fed into a big convolutional NN might be able to do a better job of telling the difference between a rock and some twisted metal and plastic composites at 1m resolution, but I don't know if anybody's actually invented that yet.
I'm using 1m resolution here as a substitute value for whatever would be appropriate to cover a large area with reasonable resources. After the Camp Fire, Alameda County brought a really cool tech team out that covered large areas of the burn with imagery from drones. They got a 1cm aerial resolution that was good enough to satisfy insurance investigators. But, it required a lot of flight time and computing power to do that, and they covered a relatively small area compared to the search area for a missing aircraft.
> According to the official report, a search pilot saw “signs of recent habitation” there. But because nobody waved them down, the search team left and the Navy dismissed the theory. What the sailors didn’t know was that the island had been uninhabited for 40 years.
> Earhart landed on the very edge of the island, Dr. Ballard believes. As tides rose, her plane may have slipped down the underwater slope.
It seems that it was occupied for several days by the 24 survivors of the shipwrecked SS Norwich City in November 1929, who were forced to abandon the wreck as it caught fire. I believe it is the ship in the photograph.
I was curious about this since I hadn't heard of this agency before. I have no experience with GEOINT but they seem to have a pretty impressive GH organization
Probably the most famous thing about the NGA is the time when President Obama was doing a meet-and-greet at a Five Guys in the DC area. He asked someone in line where they worked, and when the answer was "National Geospatial-intelligence Agency" it sounded like it was Obama's first time hearing about it Edit: Link to video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1TxMKaYHYA&t=5m55s
AFAIK, "consistent with" merely means that the hypothesis cannot be ruled out, but that does not seem to be a high bar when the image is very small and blurred.
So what else might they have considered as a candidate for the object? How about anything that might of been swept off the nearby wreck by nearly eight years of storms to start with, not to mention tree stumps, pieces of coral and other natural detritus that storms regularly move around? There seems to be a lot of confirmation bias here.
The Skeptoid link in the current first reply goes into all this in detail, here it is again if anyone missed it:
And another follow-up from Skeptoid:
The point of the analysis was to see if there was photographic evidence to suggest that it might have been the correct island all along.
Yes, it could be a tree trump or some other debris--but it also looks exactly like the wreckage of a particular part of her plane, which is enough to justify a more detailed search.
Like the Bismark's final resting spot, this island has a significant underwater seamount. If the plane landed on the beach and sunk, if could have slid thousands of feet into crevices in the seamount or even all the way down to the abyssal plain surrounding the island.
Calling the image exactly like an Electra undercarriage leg is quite a stretch, IMHO - even that interpretation's proponents merely called it "consistent".
That's why they're launching another search. It could be other things, but it could also be debris from the exact same type of plane she was flying.
At least for the sake of argument, I will grant that a blurry, distant photo of an Electra leg might look exactly like this one, but in such a case, the exactitude would be in the correspondence of two blurred, small images, and that exactitude does not transfer to the identification of the imaged object as an Electra leg. You have to ask what else could produce a matching photograph, and if it is sufficiently distant and blurred, just about anything of approximately the right reflectivity would work.
But let's also be honest here... the blurry spec smaller than a grain of rice in the original photo doesn't look like anything, specifically. 
It doesn't look like an aircraft landing gear at all. Now you can make an aircraft landing gear look like it if you make it blurry, but that blurry grain of rice looks like nothing.